The concept of Community Development has been defined as a process where community stakeholders collaborate to resolve the challenges that face their neighborhoods. This type development is very important to empower residents and to effectively create a neighborhood environment that fosters academic and economic success as well as community pride. The URRC will continue to enhance TSU’s historical role in working with urban communities to aid in their development. Several urban communities have been identified and the school is working with area stakeholders toward that end.
The Urban Academic Village – Texas Southern University is located in central Houston between the internationally renowned Houston Medical Center, Downtown Houston and two first tier universities, Rice and University of Houston central campus. The area surrounding the campus is known as Houston’s historic Third Ward. Steeped in rich history and traditionally African-American, the Third Ward community is currently undergoing extensive revitalization, including gentrification. Working with neighborhood stakeholders including residents and organizations, TSU plans to develop a comprehensive plan that would bring its commuter faculty, staff and students back to the campus and surrounding Third Ward residential community. Important to this development is the theme of an Urban Academic Village that would provide a secure environment for intellectual pursuit and engagement. TSU professors and staff will be neighbors to university students fostering a strong commitment to academic development and growth.
The Urban Academic Village will also provide academic assistance and counseling to university students. The village concept embraces significant enhancements that include one of Houston’s historic and iconic institutions, Emancipation Park, which recently underwent a $33 million renovation, defined business corridors, light rail transportation, and mixed-income housing to attract a diverse population while retaining the community’s cultural significance.
The university will be fully engaged in the redevelopment and revitalization of this thriving community. The URRC will work closely with area empowerment districts, including Tax Increment Finance Districts, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones, city and county governments, school districts, community organizations, housing authorities, financial enterprises and all other stakeholders to achieve a positive result.
Acres Homes – Another historically African-American urban community that works closely with TSU is Acres Homes, located in North Houston near downtown. The university has embarked, in partnership with the City of Houston, upon a comprehensive development plan for Acres Homes. The 9.5 square miles provides a golden opportunity for the university to partner with this strategic site for TSU off-site outreach academic and service programs.
When Acres Homes was annexed by the City of Houston in the 1970s, it was described as a dilapidated community of low income residents long deprived of basic public services. While there have been improvements since the annexation, the community retains significant blight and TSU’s outreach will go a long way in assisting in the re-building of this vibrant community. URRC has begun working with area residents and representatives to assist in the area’s ongoing planning and development.
Fifth Ward – A third community that TSU will target for urban planning and redevelopment is Fifth Ward which is located about two miles northeast of downtown Houston. Fifth Ward has contributed enormously to the culture and politics of the city and nation. Musicians Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Lester Williams and Joe Sample trained in the music program at Fifth Ward’s Phyllis Wheatley High School. Political icons, the late Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland also attended Wheatley, as did former heavyweight champion George Foreman.
Fifth Ward figures prominently in musical and cinematic depictions of Black Houston. In the last 50 years, these portrayals have focused on the crime and vice that have gripped the community, from blues musician Weldon “Juke Boy” Bonner who warned listeners to “Stay off Lyons Avenue” in the 1960s, to rappers like the Fifth Ward Boy and the Geto Boys who chronicled violence in the area in the late twentieth century. Likewise, the films Jason’s Lyric and Fifth Ward depict the effects of the drug trade on Fifth Ward in the 1990s.
This historic district would serve as a unique laboratory for TSU’s Communiversity concept, providing a culturally-rich and interdisciplinary backdrop to the university’s ambitious History of African Americans in Houston project. Moreover, TSU’s visual and performing arts agenda evidences the university’s investment in Fifth Ward as a present and ongoing reality that will only be enhanced by this additional focus on community development via the URRC. In partnership with the City of Houston, TSU was an integral part in the re-opening of the historic DeLuxe Theater in 2015. This renovated and re-invigorated theater hosts plays and other TSU theatrical productions.
The URRC’s comprehensive plans are designed to provide a vehicle for all community stakeholders to play an essential role in the community revitalization efforts. Housing Research projects include examining fair housing laws, the racial disparity in home ownership and policies toward equitable property taxation.